Friday, February 27, 2015

Grill delights at home

With the opening of the new Antipolo Public Market closer to our home, we have been able to go to the market more often to get fresh seafood. We have been able to establish our suki (favorite vendors) for fish and other sea food. There's one from whom we usually get our tuna or tanguigue, and another from whom we usually get our shrimps and prawns. We also have a suki for the vegetables that we buy from the market. I'm sharing some photos of the grilled prawns and mushrooms we had for dinner last Sunday. You can call it food porn in this season of Lent but then it is good food that we get to enjoy once in a while.

Grilled portabello mushrooms
A closer look at the grilled mushrooms with onions that was prepared with extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar
I got these prawns for 640 pesos per kilo. 3 pieces of these cooked similarly and with rice and some vegetables on the side could easily cost upwards of 300 pesos per serving at restaurants with the fancy ones even charging 1,000 pesos! One kilo of prawns was more than enough for our household that we even had enough leftover after dinner for our lunch boxes the following day.
A closer look at the grilled prawns that we had for dinner last Sunday. It was a simple recipe with marinade of extra virgin olive oil and pepper.


Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Cloudy with a chance of meatballs

The Clairvoyant and I were watching David Rocco's Dolce Vita show on TV. One of the episodes featured him making meatballs out of scratch using mainly ground meat, sun dried tomatoes and two cheeses - ricotta and parmigiano. We told ourselves that we should probably try this as it seemed easy enough and promised a very good meal. It took a while before the Clairvoyant was able to get good ricotta cheese but one weekend, she finally decided to go for it and try out a David Rocco recipe to make our dinner.

I started taking photos only after the meatballs have been prepared and ready for cooking. The meatballs did not use any starch or flour. It also didn't involve garlic.
Minced onions in olive oil go first into the pot.
Tomato sauce is added to the onions.
Meatballs are added to the tomato sauce and onion mix.
Allow the meatballs to cook or simmer along with the sauce.
We initially thought we could have the meatballs in tomato sauce with rice but decided this wasn't quite the Italian meal we wanted for dinner. And so we cooked some spaghetti for our meatball concoction.
The meatballs are just about ready and have absorbed some of the tomato sauce.
Cooked meatballs were taken out one by one from the pot to check if they were all cooked.
Following directions meant a successful foray into what is probably the best meatballs we've had, and its homemade!
Spaghetti and meatballs side by side
Meatballs in tomato and onion sauce
Meatball on spaghetti - since we used ricotta and parmigiano cheese as a binder for the ground beef, we decided against adding any more cheese to our pasta. It turned out great with the cheese integrated in the meatballs.
A close look at our meatballs shows the sun dried tomatoes fused with the meat.
The recipe from David Rocco was definitely a winner and something we thought we would probably be using for our spaghetti and meatballs from now on.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Sunday lunch at Fairview Terraces

We usually spend Sundays going to the homes of my in-laws and parents in Novaliches and Cainta, respectively. We would at least go there every other Sunday unless we are traveling abroad or have other more urgent matters on a Sunday (and usually there is none except perhaps rest). Our favorite place for lunches after hearing Mass these past Sundays is Ayala's Fairview Terraces mall. It is a welcome change from the usual lunches we have had at SM City Fairview. There are different restaurants at the Terraces and it is good to try out other restaurants from the usual ones we go to at SM. The covered parking also means we don't have to walk in the open on hot or rainy days. That is always a consideration when we are with senior citizens and our kid.

Kanzhu's special noodles is perfect for lunch starters.
A serving includes vegetables and very tender and flavorful beef.
We like their version of crispy lemon chicken.

It seems that the mall is built around this gigantic mango tree. While its survival and the landscape is appreciated, I would think that many other trees including ones like this did not survive the mall development.


Monasterio de Tarlac

I had the opportunity of going around Tarlac province in late May of last year (2014). I did not expect to go and see a lot of what Tarlac has to offer in terms of tourism sites. They have all kinds of tourism destinations including those for recreation like resorts, outdoors for hiking and mountain biking, historical sites including the memorial to those who endured the Death March in Capas. I was most surprised with the pilgrimage site of the Monasterio de Tarlac. It was the first time I learned about this monastery and I made sure I took some photos for reference and posterity.

Our first close look at the statue reminded me of the Rio de Janiero's Christ the Redeemer.
The outstretched arms of the image of the Christ also remind of the oblation or offering
It is as if Christ Himself invites us all to come to Him and share His loving embrace.
The view from the monastery is splendid and is apt for reflections or musings about such things as the meaning of life.
Another spectacular view of the Tarlac countryside from the monastery
There is a church at the monastery. This is a closer view of the facade of the church.
The monastery church
The courtyard in front of the church is suitable for larger (but outdoor) gatherings including Masses that can be held here during special occasions to accommodate more people.
The altar is supposed to hold a piece of the true Cross upon which Jesus Christ was crucified.
The monastery is very accessible to the public with good roads  though it is some time away from the main highway and Tarlac City. It should attract a lot of people during this Lenten season and plenty of pilgrims during the Holy Week in late March. It is definitely another place I look forward to visiting again.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Hinulugang Taktak

The Antipolo City Government in partnership with the Provincial Government of Rizal and other groups recently reopened the Hinulugang Taktak National Park. Hinulugang Taktak (literally Taktak Falls with "taktak" translating into "sprinkle"). I believe we were among the first few who checked out the park and the famous falls that's been part of Antipolo lore along with the Shrine of Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage. The national park is along the way to the church where we hear Mass on Sundays and so we were already anticipating its reopening from the time we transferred residence nearby.

People used to go to Antipolo not just to visit the shrine but also to bathe in the waters of Hinulugang Taktak. However, due to the rapid, unplanned and uncontrolled development of the city, the waters feeding the falls immediately became polluted and at one point, the water fall was literally "taktak" or only a sprinkle (if not a trickle) of water. I'm sharing photos I took last weekend at Hinulugang Taktak for people to see how much progress has been made to rehabilitate the falls and the national park environs.

Sign outside the park

Quick info on the projects and initiatives for the national park
A view of the newly constructed walkways in the park. The old walkways are still there and you can compare how steep the old ones are.
Efforts were obviously made to make the park accessible to most if not all people.
A view of the swimming pool (not yet for use by visitors) from the walkway to the falls.
We saw this group comprised of senior citizens making their way back up from the falls. We learned that Antipolo City provided enough staff to assist senior citizens as they walked up.
A nice view of the falls from one of the more strategically and conveniently located tables in the park.
The picturesque Hinulugang Taktak is getting back to what it was like during its glory days.
"May amoy pa ba?" - yes, there is still a distinctive smell from the spray and mist. The streams and other waters leading to the falls are not yet that clean as evidenced by the bubbles and the soap suds accumulating at the foot of the falls.
A look at the gardens and the network of walkways at the park.
A view of the falls from the quadrangle in the middle of the park.
The park is clean and there are staff taking good care of the park grounds as well as garbage bins encouraging segregation.
There were already a lot of people at the park as most tables were taken. There is a meditation area and more tables on the other side of the park across from the river.
We saw some cottages near the park administration office that look like they will allow people to stay overnight at the park. We didn't inquire about this so we're not sure about it. It would be nice though if accommodations are available once the park becomes a popular spot again.
Downstream of the falls and away from the crowds are parts of the park that are still under development.

Park rules and regulations
Hinulugang Taktak is located along Taktak Road, the old Daang Bakal and about 200 meters from the intersection with Sumulong Highway (near Robinsons Place Antipolo). It is a short tricycle ride from the Rizal Provincial Capitol and along the way to the Parish of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

Entrance is currently free but perhaps they will start charging fees to cover the costs of maintaining the park as well as making sure it is safe and secure for visitors. My only suggestion at this point is for the city to also manage parking as certain people and especially kids from the nearby communities have appeared at the parking area to become informal parking attendants. I think the city should at least deputize people in coordination with the barangay to ensure safety and security for visitors bringing their vehicles to the park.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Chocolate review: Marks & Spencer Swiss Chocolate

I have featured mostly dark chocolates in the past modest reviews I've made. For a change, I write about a white chocolate that we got before the holidays last year. I got this bar from Marks & Spencer as a Christmas gift from one of our research partners. As expected from the brand, the chocolate was smooth and not too sweet for a white chocolate bar.

Marks & Spencer Swiss Chocolate is tagged as extra fine chocolate. I think the tag is pretty accurate. It is obviously not a top brand chocolate but the quality is high.
The information at the back states that the bar contains 35% cocoa solids. I think this is a bit high for a milk chocolate and is probably one of the reasons for its smooth taste.
I haven't checked the price for this bar but it is likely to be more expensive than the white chocolates you typically find on supermarket shelves. However, it shouldn't be priced like the Valrhona's so a bar shouldn't put you back a lot or punch a hole on your pockets.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Homemade Italian meals

Its my favourite month of the year. And so I would be featuring a lot of what we love. We love Italian food so its common for us to have pasta dinners or lunches. We usually have different kinds of pasta including our favourite olive oil-based dishes and bolognese inspired spaghetti that is a comfort food to us. As we are able to get fresh leafy vegetables like romaine lettuce and arugula, we could have real good salad to pair with our pastas.

The pizza, pasta and salad trifecta
Our version of an olive oil based pasta dish with hot Spanish salami, olives, mushrooms and garlic
Mini pizzas with mozzarella, mushrooms and basil that's fresh from our garden
The Clairvoyant is able to get good cheeses from several sources including Santis (near her office) and a couple of supermarkets near our home. Mushrooms are either the canned or the dried variety. It can be difficult to get fresh mushrooms like the shiitake that's great with different types of dishes but our experience with dried mushrooms are okay so far. Salami or prosciutto can be purchased in the same stores or supermarkets. Herbs are already available from our garden. And many kinds of pasta are available from the supermarket. What we haven't done at home yet is ravioli and we hope to experiment with this dish soon.